Around 30 women armed with signs, megaphones and a handful of shouted slogans took to the streets of Southall, west London on Thursday in a spontaneous grassroots protest against to a UK Border Agency (UKBA) operation at a local shopping centre.
A video posted on YouTube shows two officers wearing Border Agency jackets being bombarded with chants of “UKBA go away”, before taking refuge through the back exit of the shopping centre.
“This is our area, we have a right to live here,” says Meena Patel, 51, into a megaphone during the clip. She is the operations manager of the Southall Black Sisters, a local women’s group who started the protest.
Speaking today, Ms Patel said that the action was framed by recent policies towards migrant communities such as the demands that benefit claimants speak English and the ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’ vans that have been driving around multi-cultural communities.
“The community were quite surprised at first, because we were women. The public were watching and some of the young men joined us,” she told The Independent. “We told them to be aware of what the police were doing; that they’re targeting our communities. We definitely had the community’s support on this.”
The SBS was established in 1979 by an Asian group of women, following the death of activist Blair Peach in the local area. Working from a semi-detached house on a leafy suburban street in Southall, they run a range of campaigns addressing forced marriage, domestic violence and legal aid funding for migrants. While they focus on the needs of minority women, they say their doors are open to any woman in need of emergency help.
Over time, they have increasingly shifted from supporting women in their fight against racism to helping Asian women who are the victims of domestic violence and campaigning against religious fundamentalism. They played a key role in the 1989 case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who was accused of burning her abusive husband to death. With the help of the SBS, her conviction was overturned on grounds of insufficient counsel.
Ms Patel said she had been aware of UKBA officers stopping people and asking for identity at train and tube stations for the past week.
“They’re doing it on the pretext of checking Oyster cards. As far as we’re concerned, it’s racial profiling and it’s illegal and they shouldn’t be doing it. It’s happening in Stratford, Kensal Green and Brent.
“They’re basically kettling up black and ethnic minorities and asking ‘where’s your ID’. It’s very much a Nazi Germany way of working – and we’re raising our voices against that
“There is a lot tension: you can see it with the stop and searches, with people’s homes being raided and people getting picked up. Now we’ve raised this, it’s only going to get bigger – we’re not stopping here.”